Though Arianna Huffington would be appalled, I’m sure, her words kept coming to mind during my hours of rapture at the State Fair. As I trudged the streets, dodged the revelers, and ignored the pervasive essence of grease, it was her prose that set the mental pace. Huffington’s gentle essay, “Hemingway, Thoreau, Jefferson and the Virtues of a Good Long Walk” posted on her August 29 blog, framed my thoughts at the Great Minnesota Get-Together.
Huffington writes that “a journey – one that can also be full of adventure and knowledge – doesn’t have to involve planes and cars and passports. The benefits of a journey are always available simply by walking.”
In truth Huffington does not envision walking at the State Fair…Though hers is a more bucolic background with references to communing with nature, I kept thinking of the common experience I was enjoying. I was alone, anonymous, in a sea of nature (albeit human), devoid of technology (since none that I possess could either cope or compete), in a reflective – and learning – mode. The Fair, if visited in the guise of a disengaged observer, frees the spirit – no deadlines, no meetings, no business at all except to soak it all in.
And then there’s the walking. A leisurely walk to Heritage Square is a healthy hike, if one pauses for an irresistible ice cream cone (caramel denali). The trek to the horse barns or the art gallery or a real tour of International Square puts some wear on the sneakers. Even the MPR booth on Nelson and Jackson is a healthy jaunt, especially if you start at the North end of the grounds.
The wonder is that the blocks slip by as the mind drifts, occasionally soars, trying to capture the essence of The Fair. The infants in arms, physically challenged amputees negotiating the Grandstand steps, families in matching day-glo t-shirts designed to keep the brood in tow, 4-Hers shuffling their prize winning efforts, high school bands marching proudly behind the Kemp’s cow, ethnic food vendors, groomers and trainers of domesticated animals, politicians, exhausted workers, homegrown royalty, artists, musicians, dancers, farmers, crafters, cooks and others who take well-earned pride in their efforts. Each vignette is a story demanding the sort of reflection that germinates during a long walk to the next story.
In Huffington’s construct her models walked for various reasons: for Jefferson, the purpose of walking was “to clear the mind of thoughts,” a theory that discourages mobile thinking about life, the universe and the essence of Minnesota. Nietzsche, on the other hand, believed that “all truly great thoughts are conceived while walking” while Hemingway saw walking as “a way of developing his best thoughts while mulling a problem.” Walking at the Fair is not about thinking deep thoughts or even mulling a problem. Still, it’s a sort of mindless thinking that has therapeutic implications.
Huffington concludes that “maybe the connection between our minds and our legs is that one of them is going to wander. Sit still and our minds want to ramble – get up and start walking and our minds can slow down and be focused. Perhaps forcing the brain to process a new environment allows it to engage more fully. “
Obviously, normal people go to the State Fair for entertainment, food, maybe even to snag an inflated giraffe, the thrill of the space needle or the chance to kick tires at the remnants of Machinery Hill.
My personal preference is to imagine the Fair as an annual opportunity to “move through the world not just physically, but spiritually.” Huffington quotes Geoff Nicholson writing in The Lost Art of Walking: The History, Science and Literature of Pedestrianism: ‘Writing is one way of making the world our own, and…walking is another.”
That’s what I was thinking about as one of the hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans – and neighbors – mentally unleashed for hours at the Fair. I’m glad no one asked what was on my mind.